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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fer-De-Lance (1934), The League of Frightened Men (1935). Rex Stout. Bantam Books. (2008)

Fer-De-Lance and the League of Frightened Men are the first two of the Nero Wolfe stories written by Rex Stout and they are a treat. In Fer-De-Lance a death on a golf course that is first considered accidental is revealed to be murder. In the League of Frightened Men, the victim of a college prank that went wrong is taking murderous revenge of the perpetrators. In each case Nero Wolfe takes on the case and with the assistance of Archie Goodwin, follows the twists and tuns of finely wrought puzzles. The reveals are very nicely paced and executed with considerable flourish, the action is stylishly described and the conclusions are very satisfying.
Nero Wolfe is a wonderful character, he is brilliantly eccentric without ever being tiresome or foolish. He simply has organised his life in a fashion that suits him best and sees no reason to alter his routines. Being a private detective pays for his life, he is capable of seeing the structure beneath an event and understanding its significance. Archie Goodwin, who does the active part of the process is charming and provides a slyly humorous narration for the stories. He humanises the process and Wolfe and effortlessly engages the reader.
These stories plot an original course between the gentleman private detective stories of a previous generation of writers and the emerging more realistic hard boiled mystery stories. They combine virtues from both to develop a fresh and very enjoyable style that has aged very well. The characters are so well realised that they stride off the page with equal force today as when they were first published. These stories sparkle with wit and are highly and pleasureably addictive.

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